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Climate crisis: Switzerland has violated human rights, the European Court has concluded, in a landmark climate case brought by 2,000 women

Climate crisis: Switzerland has violated human rights, the European Court has concluded, in a landmark climate case brought by 2,000 women

Christian Hartmann – Reuters

Anne Maher and Rosemary Wider-Walty, leading women in climate protection, after their victory at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France on April 9, 2024.


On Tuesday, an international court in France ruled against Switzerland Failure to adequately address the climate crisis It was a human rights violation, in a historic climate ruling that could have a ripple effect around the world.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, issued its ruling in a case brought by More than 2000 Swiss womenMost of them are in their seventies, against the Swiss government. They said heatwaves fueled by climate change undermined their health and quality of life, and put them at risk of death.

The court ruled that the Swiss government violated some of women's human rights due to “critical gaps” in its national legislation to limit planet-warming emissions, as well as failure to meet previous climate targets.

This has been reached The court said in a statement that this is a violation of women’s rights to effective protection from “the serious negative effects of climate change on life, health, well-being and quality of life.”

This is the first time the court has ruled on climate issues. There is no right of appeal and the ruling is legally binding.

Experts say court ruling It could bolster other human rights-based climate cases pending before international courts, and could open the door to many similar lawsuits to be launched in the future.

“Today’s rulings against Switzerland set a historic precedent that applies to all European countries,” Gerry Liston, a lawyer at the Global Legal Action Network, which supported Portugal’s case, said in a statement. “This means that all European countries must urgently review their targets so that they are science-based and aligned with 1.5 degrees. This is a big win for all generations.”

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This ruling could force Switzerland to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels more quickly. Fossil fuels are the main driver of human-caused climate change.

Vesselina Newman, of environmental lawyers ClientEarth, said this finding “from one of the world’s highest courts sends a clear message: governments must take real action on emissions to protect the human rights of their citizens.”

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice, which represents the country in the Human Rights Court, said it “takes note” of the ruling.

“The comprehensive ruling will be analyzed with the relevant authorities and the measures Switzerland should take in the future will be examined,” she said in a statement to CNN.

The court also issued rulings on two other lawsuits, one filed by a municipal mayor against the French government and the third, The largest and most famous, by six young people in Portugal against 32 European countries. Both of these allegations were ruled “inadmissible”.

Jean-François Badias/AFP

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, second from left, joins young people from Portugal during a demonstration outside the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday in Strasbourg, France.

The French claim was excluded because the plaintiff had since moved out of the country and He no longer has ties to the area in which his case was focused On, therefore, he did not qualify as a “victim” for the purposes of the lawsuit.

The court dismissed the Portuguese case on the grounds that the plaintiffs had not exhausted all legal avenues in their national court Order first. It also ruled that there were no grounds to extend the claim to countries outside Portugal.

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Catarina dos Santos Mota, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said that even though the ruling did not go their way, it was still a win. “We didn't break the wall, but we created a big crack,” she said. “I want to see the win over Switzerland used against all European countries and in national courts.”

As the climate crisis worsens, climate lawsuits have become an increasingly popular tool to try to force governments and companies to step up their climate action, especially as… The world is still largely off track In reducing emissions quickly enough to avoid catastrophic temperature rises.

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who attended a demonstration, told reporters outside the court that “this is just the beginning of climate litigation.”

“Around the world, more and more people are taking their governments to court, holding them accountable for their actions,” Thunberg said, adding: “We will use every tool in our toolbox.”

Tuesday's ruling in favor of the Swiss woman sets a “precedent for other international courts to follow,” Liston, of the Global Legal Action Network, told CNN.

Both the International Court of Justice and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have pending cases related to the human rights impacts of climate change.

CNN's Louis Mian contributed reporting.